Saturday, December 24, 2011
What on Earth: Volume 7 2011
Luke Brough 2008 Award Winner
University of Waterloo Earth Sciences/ Geology Option
My interest in geology goes back as far as I can remember. My dad’s family is from Bancroft, Ontario, the self-styled mineral capital of Canada, so for every Christmas my Grandparents would give me beautiful rock samples from their area. One of my most vivid memories as a 7 year old was turning a large piece of polished plagioclase feldspar over and over in my hands wondering where it came from. I had never seen any rock like it in nature so I was amazed by the thought that it had been pulled from somewhere deep beneath my feet. At a young age I began thinking about geology as an exciting way to spend my life.
During one summer I worked in a factory that made metal tubes for cars; it was my job to place unformed tubes into a press and then remove the finished ones. Doing the same exact motion over and over for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week led me to the conclusion that variety is indeed the spice of life. Fortunately, as a career in Earth Sciences is full of variety; classes cover a wide spectrum of topics and different work opportunities are abundant.
Environmental hydrogeology is the main focus of the Earth Sciences department in Waterloo so I’ve been exposed to many interesting ideas in that area. A first year hydrogeology course introduced me to collecting data in the field and I instantly fell in love. We would get outfitted with huge, green hip waders and spend a day in a forest measuring stream flow speeds or checking for ground water contaminants. Doing this kind of work outside barely feels like work at all. There are many other interesting areas of Geoscience that are thought of as more traditional, such as mining or earthquakes and plate tectonics. I’m currently working for a geophysical exploration company in Sudbury, Ontario, so I’m getting a firsthand look at the mining industry. The scope of the projects here is staggering; you can drive around for hours in huge tunnels dug kilometres underground. The jobs for geologists here cover all stages of mining. You can work outdoors collecting data to determine where the most economical deposits are or in the office determining the best way to approach deposits. Then geologists oversee the tunnelling and later the extraction of ore. A completely different type of work is being done in the research of plate tectonics and the resulting earthquakes and volcanoes. I find this area exciting because it outlines how the world around us was created over millions of years.
Working outdoors is one of the best parts of being in geology. The prospect of spending all my time walking in forests, boating on an ocean, or hiking in the mountains was one of the major factors in my decision to get into this program. One of the most striking memories from my childhood was driving through the redwood forests of Vancouver Island; I would drive my parents crazy asking them to stop so that I could adventure through the woods. Since then I have been lucky enough to travel around the world and see many of our planet’s natural wonders. While moving from Vancouver Island to Singapore with my family I spent a week in two very different parts of Thailand. First was the capital city Bangkok; it was the most polluted metropolis I’d ever seen. Transport vans would stir up huge clouds of dust as blue fumes would spew out of their exhaust pipes on the crowded streets. In a strange juxtaposition to this was a coastal resort that I spent the remainder of my time at. It was a small place with white sand beaches and dark rocks jutting out of the water. If you sat on the beach you could watch crabs go about their day or hear monkeys screech in the nearby jungles. It was difficult to see how such a beautiful setting could be turned into a city like Bangkok.
It’s amazing how much two places in opposite parts of the world can look the same. While living in Turkey, some years later, I hiked through canyons full of rock columns in Cappadocia. They were tall, some a couple stories high, and harshly weathered because of the arid climate of the region. Walking around and climbing on them brought back memories of hiking the Badlands of Alberta. Despite being 10,000 kilometres away from Turkey the Badlands were covered by the same dusty rock hills. A day spent exploring the different formations would leave you forever coated with a fine layer of souvenir rock dust.
After Turkey we returned to Canada and I lived in a small town called Strathroy. This was my first opportunity to explore the countryside of southern Ontario. Across the street from my house was a huge conservation area that I spent my summers jogging and biking through. Once you got deep enough into the trails the sounds of my neighbourhood would give way to the chirping of small birds and the rustle of the wind through the leaves. On a good day you can see the white puffs of deer tails slipping away between the trees. Strathroy is expanding quickly, especially the area near my old house and the forest, but luckily the town is only building around the forest. That forest looks nothing like the winter wonderland I spend my days working in now. Summer forests are bursting with colour; layers of green mingling with deep brown. The leaves seem to sparkle as sunlight streams through the holes in the forest ceiling. Blanketed in snow, the same types of trees become muted. The only green left is the dark shade of the evergreens and none of the brown forest floor is visible. The snow makes the forest look unnaturally pristine. As if the plummeting temperature not only freezes water but time as well, leaving the forest untouchable. My employers are sending me to Labrador now so I’ll get to explore a new type of winter environment.
Doing geophysics for a work term is a great opportunity to expand on what I learned in my Geophysics class last term. In addition to that I took mostly Earth Science courses such as Mineralogy, Paleontology and Stratigraphy and Earth History. The summer between first and second year I spent many days wondering whether I was in the right field or not. My first year classes were mostly general science so it was hard to tell what I was getting myself into. However, my second year classes and the professors teaching them gave me a good look at what a future in Earth Sciences would be like. The topics I’ll be learning about in the future look very exciting as well. Volcanology looks to be one of the highlights of third year. It covers the different controls on eruptions and details on the different magma types. I’m also looking forward to Earth Systems Science that deals with global climate issues of the past and present. In fourth year Quaternary Geology should be interesting as it deals with the last Ice Age and how it shaped Southern Ontario. These are just the topics that catch my eye as I browse the Earth Science section of the course catalogue; the best classes will probably be about areas I’ve never even thought about. This doesn’t surprise me though; geology is always interesting in that it keeps me guessing.